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The Mask of Sanity

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  740 ratings  ·  52 reviews
The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality is a book written by American psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley, first published in 1941, describing Cleckley's clinical interviews with patients in a locked institution. The text is considered to be a seminal work and the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in ...more
Paperback, 596 pages
Published January 31st 2003 by Textbook Pub (first published January 1st 1941)
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I wanted to read Hervey Cleckley’s The Mask of Sanity because it is referenced in other psychopathology books as the leader of psychopathology for its time. Robert D. Hare’s Without Conscience, a book on psychopaths I’ve read a few times, references it and I thought I would check it out. To be clear, I read the fourth (1964) edition. I found this book fascinating for probably all the wrong reasons.

To put this book in its proper perspective, the bulk of the book (research and writing) was done in
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
A classic study of psychopaths with numerous case studies, defining characteristics of psychopaths, glib superficial charm, manipulative, little or no emotional bonds, criminal behavior, failure to learn from experience, pathological lying, violent behavior, injudicious hedonism, lack of fear or remorse. The signs that many are familiar. The doctor distinguishes this from the type of madness of schizophrenia which is driven by hallucination and delusion and paranoia. On the surface, a psychopat ...more
Mary Overton
Cleckley's book is out of print, so I read a pdf version of a scanned copy made available at
... this online essay is informative if you can handle/ignore the New Age Twilight Zone stuff at the end.

Cleckley provides detailed case histories of psychopaths ... incredible reading if you are interested in stories of dysfunctional people/families.
Medical discussions in Cleckley's book are fascinating from an historical viewpoint ... obviously info is dated.

Leo Robertson

I've been reading this for research for a story. Perhaps fortuitously I picked the toughest book I needed to read for this research. That means I'll be able to plough through the rest by the end of the month in time to get back to editing the story throughout October in time to start a new story for NaNoWriMo November! We're on schedule, everybody!

Pfffft not like you'll get to see anything I'm writing until someone publishes it, but, sorry folks, that par
Jul 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Cleckley scatters through this book constant fascinating anecdotes and remarks, some so outrageous or remarkable that one would assume he made them up if he were writing on some other topic.

Cleckley's moralizing and occasional very old-fashioned comments are occasionally as interesting, and reading him in 2012, one feels very strongly just how distant (in a social mores sense) we are from him in the 1940s and earlier - when he writes of 'miscegenation' (I wonder how many teenagers now could tell
An immensely useful read for those interested in psychopathy, particularly if you are/were a Psychology/Psychiatry/Criminology student. Keep in mind that it was originally published in 1941, and you will have to sit through an entire chapter which calls homosexuality a mental disorder. Barring that, this book is one of the cardinal works on psychopathy, from a pioneer in the field, and it contains tens of detailed cases and clinical considerations from a practitioner who believed that psychopath ...more
Maja Leibovitz
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Cleckley can write about all the myriad ways circumscribed to scrubbing toilet bowls while somaticizing such tribulations through delineating the less than perfunctory actions required to achieve such immaculate results and still find himself amenable even to the most dyspeptic individual as well as still be considered the pioneer in such a boring field.. entertaining you quite propitiously along the way! His writing style is superb!
Charlotte Earl
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hervey Cleckley is regarded as the father of the field of psychopathy studies. His first book was published in 1941, and this version of the book is his 1975 revised edition. He died in 1984, and the last edition of this book came out in 1888. It is a fascinating read, but it does require dedication to one's purpose to see it through to the end. Mr. Cleckley's writing style is to be commended, but he is nonetheless writing from a medical stand point, and the average lay person must focus careful ...more
Jan 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
I just remembered this book from way back. I think I must have read this one sometime in the late 1970's or early 1980's. It is very hard sledding being a textbook written I believe in the 1940's. I took nearly a year to read it -- I was doing other reading also, but largely it was my intent to read this slowly and to absorb it thoroughly. I was spurred into this by hearing Dr. Laura -- oh yes, not intentionally tuned in but in passing I heard some discussion of a caller which led me to lissten ...more
I learnt all I can about sociopaths from this book. The case studies were by far the most interesting part of the book. Can be a little dry and it's definitely out dated. Most of the behaviours in this book that point to someone being a sociopath are socially acceptable ways for people to behave either the book is REALLY out of date or we are living in the era of the sociopath.
Jun 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazingly outdated yet completely fascinating description of the modern psychopath. With tons of actual case studies, you will not believe what you read here. Truth is stranger than fiction. It's hard to find, and you have to slog through parts, but it is worth it.
Tobi Nifesi
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
a perfect snapshot of how mental health was perceived, observed, treated and studied in the 40s.

Suffice to say: mental health terminologies and approaches/treatments are way better now but mental health issues were taken more seriously back then
Greg Hickey
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: influences, research
Considered a revolutionary study of psychopathy upon its initial publication in 1941, Hervey Cleckley's The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues about the So-Called Psychopathic Personality offers useful insight into the affliction almost eighty years later. Faced with a poor understanding of psychopathy throughout society as well as the legal and psychiatric community, Dr. Cleckley hoped to identify the common symptoms of psychopaths and improve their treatment options. Working in ...more
James Hatton
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here's one of the first formal studies of psychopathy, under that name. There are several "flavors" of psychopaths. This one's about psychopaths who are lifetime screw-ups. They just can't get their life together. To the people around them, they're like a bad odor. To themselves, they're just strolling through life, oblivious to the havoc they wreak.

I don't think this book is in print, but you might find the PDF online.

By the way, I consider sociopaths and psychopath the same thing. It's unclear
Bob Mayer
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the earliest works on psychopaths. Very relevant now as we're seeing the mask start to slip in the face of our current crisis. Already there are those who are openly calling for allowing the virus runs it course and "Weed out" the elderly and already sick. They've always been here, but the last few years they've been getting bolder.
Avis Black
Feb 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
The classic study about narcissistic personality disorder.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
A clinical textbook on psychopathy. I read this in college after a friend recommended it.
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing Book and a must read for someone who wishes to understand the depth in being human/inhuman. Human is an animal and the line between normal and abnormal is thin, biased and often misleading.
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up
I couldn't take it anymore so I'm calling it quits on this one, although it sits proudly on my bookshelf at work!
Oct 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting to know there's thin line between saint and psychopath.
Caidyn (he/him/his)
Jan 22, 2017 marked it as to-read
Another thing I should read because of my psychopathy class.
Henri Moreaux
First published in 1941 and revised numerous times, I read the 5th edition published in 1975.

Whilst updated as time passed, the 5th edition still included the now known to be incorrect hypothesis that homosexuality is a mental disorder. Asides for this the book, although written academically, and as such quite dry, is up to par with the theories of today.

I encoutered mention of this work in Robert D Hare's Without Conscience which noted it was one of the pivotal and first works on psychopatholog
Aug 21, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is interesting, for the most part, from a historical perspective: we know more about psycopathy nowadays, so the book is of limited interest to those who want to learn about the topic. Still, Cleckey makes some interesting points, for instance regarding the ego-syntonic nature of the pathology (the psycopath is happy the way s/he is) and the way this pathology does not fit in with our notions of "insanity," as psycopaths suffer from no delusions and can be quite rational in some aspect ...more
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Gives a good idea of the field of psychiatry as pertaining to the diagnosis of "psychopath" in the 1940s era and has really fascinating case studies & attempts to analyze famous & fictional people. This being the 1940s, the author does come with his own set of era-appropriate prejudices, though he seems to be on the progressive end for a white man for that era (i.e. he noted that homosexuals, for their deviations, seem to do very well, and possibly better than some heterosexuals, given the socia ...more
Ben Heller
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The most entertaining books open with a bang.

"A millionaire notable for his eccentricity had an older and better balanced brother
who, on numerous fitting occasions, exercised strong persuasion to bring him under
psychiatric care. On receiving word that this wiser brother had been deserted
immediately after the nuptial night by a famous lady of the theatre (on whom he had
just settled a large fortune) and that the bride, furthermore, had, during the brief
pseudoconnubial episode, remained stubbo
Vasil Kolev
Jul 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
The book has a very heavy language (not the kind of too much terminology, but of too much words and over-complex sentences).

It's a good description of the "psychopathic personality disorder", called this by the author, otherwise (as he explains) it falls somewhere under "antisocial personality disorder". It's split in four parts - intro, an overview of the patients he studied (about 20 cases), a comparison with other disorders and diseases and a description of the elements of the disorder, and a
Anson Berberich
I first heard about this book in a Kurt Vonnegut autobiography. I bought it because he recommended it for some reason I don't remember, it was some time ago. I read the whole thing just for fun, but it turned out to be more educational than fun. There were moments in the book that were a bit entertaining, or even close to what I would call "Short stories," or, the personal stories of patients/study subjects of Dr. Cleckley. My wife just read the book for that one section. This was supposed to be ...more
Hari Brandl
May 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
I expected a rather different book when I decided to read this. I thought it would afford me some better understanding of the psychopathic personality. Instead, the author presented many case histories of people in all walks of life who didn't act in ways one would expect from a psychopath, but rather in flamboyant, self-destructive, illegal and bizarre behavior in ways I would think are more often associated with alcohol abuse and/or severe lack of impulse control. More, in fact, in keeping wit ...more
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I disagree with plenty of the conclusions the author arrives at, and more than a few of the insights, explanations, an descriptions presented. That being said this work has informed a great deal of my own thinking on the complex subject of antisocial/psychopathic/sociopathic behavior, and despite its dry, academic nature I really enjoyed it.
Coincidentally, a saw a quote (I'm not sure of its source) just this morning that struck me forcefully:
"My mask of sanity is about to slip."
That is an absolu
Marinus Tahu
Sep 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting read - I learned about how others succeed;
I learned what qualities I can embrace, and what qualities I can cast off; and still being a success.

Since many of us are not psychopaths, but successful never-the-less - we can understand how to navigate the corporate world; and avoid being harmed by careless, malicious, stupid actions of other.

As I read in a very interesting book, back in 2003, habits are like furniture - we can choose decorate out Mind Palace as best suits us - whil
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Dr. Hervey Milton Cleckley (1903 - January 28, 1984) was an American psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of psychopathy. His book, The Mask of Sanity, originally published in 1941, provided the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in the 20th Century. The term "mask of sanity" derived from Cleckley's observations that, unlike people with major mental disorders, a "psychopath" can ...more

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“The 16 characteristics of psychopaths:

1. Intelligent
2. Rational
3. Calm
4. Unreliable
5. Insincere
6. Without shame or remorse
7. Having poor judgment
8. Without capacity for love
9. Unemotional
10. Poor insight
11. Indifferent to the trust or kindness of others
12. Overreactive to alcohol
13. Suicidal
14. Impersonal sex life
15. Lacking long-term goals
16. Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior”
“They also bring to mind what sometimes seems to be a rapt predilection of small but influential cults of intellectuals or esthetes for what is generally regarded as perverse dispirited or distastefully unintelligible. The award of a Nobel Prize in literature to Andre Gide who in his work fervently and openly insists that pederasty is the superior and preferable way of life for adolescent boys furnishes a memorable example of such judgments. Renowned critics and some professors in our best universities reverently acclaim as the superlative expression of genius James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake a 628page collection of erudite gibberish indistinguishable to most people from the familiar word salad produced by hebephrenic patients on the back wards of any state hospital.” 4 likes
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